Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category


These little white beans are called purgatory beans

I originally published this recipe (I’d watched Gordon Ramsay demonstrate it on YouTube), four years ago almost to the day.

It was a bitingly cold February back in 2012.

My, what a difference four years makes!

We are eating this in a sunny courtyard with the first daffodil peeking round the corner, looking as surprised as we are.


Faux Printemps is all very well but one has to be a little anxious.


Jack Frost can be a patient fellow….


“Bonjour, Madam–deux cotes d’échine, s’il vous plait.”

Spare rib chops are tastier and less prone to dry out than loin chops–and they are the less expensive cut.


These two cost under 3€ (about $3.30 or £2.40).

“Elles sont trop cher, Madam!”

Our Lautrec Friday market pork butcher looked confused--until she heard the woman next to me laugh.

The rosemary needles take on a nice crunchiness and are worth eating, as is the garlic.

for 2

2 spare rib pork chops

Sprigs of rosemary and thyme

3/4 cloves of garlic–squashed, peeled and halved

olive oil

salt and pepper

heat the oven to 200C/400F

  • Dribble some olive oil and sprinkle some salt on a shallow oven tray.
  • Scatter over a couple of the cloves of garlic.
  • Place the chops on top.
  • Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  • Strip the rosemary needles from the stem over the chops.
  • Do the same with the thyme (not so easily done).
  • Dribble more olive oil over the tray.
  • Put it in the higher part of the oven for about 20 minutes.
  • (The cooking time depends on the thickness of the chops.)
  • Best to cut into them to check–the juices should run clear.


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Taken while the eggs were a-poaching!

I’m a fan of Nigel Slater–his cooking and his writing.

He’s an everyday cook whose latest book–the third of the series–is a diary of his year in the kitchen.

Keep a daily record of what you cook over twelve months and at the end you have a book!

It is also of the moment–and thereby seasonal–the way I like to cook.

In fact I have no choice–the markets here are seasonal. You won’t find asparagus until March. Last Saturday was the second time the little white torpedoes called endive have shown up.

This idea of his–thick slices of green or white cabbage–the tight leaf variety–infused with a simple marinade and cooked in the oven on a high-ish heat–can serve as “the main item” on a lunch or dinner plate.

They are a meaty eat–best to use a serrated steak knife.


These heavy round cannon ball cabbages can be a bit inhibiting. Here are two types; either work well, but I favor the slightly looser leafed variety–the one on the right; it allows the sauce mix to penetrate more easily.

for 2

1 medium green/white cabbage

2 garlic cloves–peeled and pulped with a little salt

2 tbls lemon juice

2 tbls olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

4 tbls grated parmesan–or more, if desired

oven at 200c/400f

Remove the damaged outer leaves of the cabbage.

With great care, holding the cabbage firmly on its side, slice it in inch-thick slices.

Try to keep the same thickness as you slice–bit of a challenge.

Cover a shallow oven tray with foil and lightly brush it with oil.

Arrange the cabbage slices on it.


Put the garlic, oil, lemon juice and pepper into a jar with a tight lid, secure the top and shake it all about.

Brush the slices generously with this sauce.


Cook in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes (they should be tender).

Take the tray out of the oven and with a fish slice carefully turn over the slices.


Spread a tablespoon of parmesan on each…


then pop the tray back in the oven for 15 minutes.


I served them with poached eggs on the side.


The two cheese version–my alternative topping  of crumbled goats cheese on top of the parmesan, got the DING from Meredith!


(Braised fennel on the side)

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Through the morning haze of toast and coffee wafted the words, “the quiz was won by Meredith Wheeler…” from the radio on the desk in the kitchen.
It took a second’s delay for my brain to clarify the message.
Meredith Wheeler, the person enjoying breakfast in bed listening to our favourite Sunday morning radio show–Broadcasting House with the wonderful Paddy O’Connell–had been, according to the words that I was now sure I’d heard moments ago, the first to guess correctly the answer to the weekly quiz, audio clues to a notable news story in the past week*.
It took another nano second before I found myself rising from my chair and moving to the entrance hall–emitting a very loud whooping sound which was met from the landing upstairs by a similar primal scream of surprise and delight.
It was like our team had scored in the last second of the final–thus winning us the cup!
We then joined each other on the landing in an unashamed display of triumph.
This took the form of prolonged hugs and jumps and further yelps.
After a period of relative calm, confirmation that our ears had not deceived us came in email form from Bonnie in the BH production office, promising the dispatch of the coverted prize, a wooden spoon, as soon as new supplies arrived.


 *The story was about the 3-year-old Emma who managed to telephone the emergency services when her pregnant mother fell down the stairs at home and knocked herself unconscious.
Here is the report including the audio of Emma’s remarkable call:

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Just back from filming two scenes in the second series of Poldark on location in deepest Wiltshire.

Footwarmers supplied for the long day in court–and they work!

Didn’t make the Reverend Doctor Halse any more warm-hearted–mean old thing–though he didn’t have it all his own way–Francis  and Ross see to that!


Weary and happy to be home.

Keen NOT to go shopping for lunch this morning!

Look in the fridge and find half a cabbage and half a large leek, a couple of carrots and celery stalks–battuto/sofrito!

Some half-cooked fresh tomatoes are in there too–preserved under a film of olive oil.

A large jar of white beans is on the shelf in the larder.


Enough to make a reduced version of the recipe reproduced below.

White Bean Soup with Cabbage from Healthy Eating for Life


An autumn/winter soup this–with a big presence.

Adapted from Leslie Forbes’ book:  A Table in Tuscany.

 for 4

carrots--chopped small

2 sticks of celery–chopped small

leeks–cleaned and chopped small

6 tbsp olive oil

3/4 tinned tomatoes–chopped up with their liquid

A sprig of fresh thyme

1 large garlic clove–pulped

Half a green cabbage–stem removed and shredded

The other half of the cabbage shredded thinly–this for a topping (see below)

1 tbsp olive oil

About 800gms/24oz  cooked white beans–canned or bottled or dried, soaked and cooked (see p?), drained but their liquid retained

1 pint/500ml stock–I use organic vegetable stock cubes


Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sweat the celery, leeks and carrots until they are tender–about twenty minutes.

Mix in the tomatoes, garlic and thyme and let them cook on for five minutes.

Add the cabbage, season with salt and pepper and cook on for ten minutes.

Purée three-quarters of the beans in a mixer with a little of their liquid.

Add the bean water and the bean purée to the soup and stir it all together.

Cook this thick mix for an hour–stirring it regularly to stop it sticking and burning.

Add a little of the stock each time you stir it.

This is meant to be a thick soup–up to you how loose you make it–just be careful not to dilute the depth of taste.

While the soup cooks on sauté the rest of the cabbage to serve as a topping when you present the soup.

Serve hot with swirls of the best olive oil you have.


*A battuto or sofrito is a flavor-base of finely chopped raw ingredients. Battuto is a derivative of the Italian, battere, which means ‘to strike,’and describes the a chef’s knife chopping on a cutting board.

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“They don’t look too promising….” was Meredith’s verdict on the three fennel bulbs I had lined up on the chopping board.

I admit they looked like someone who’d had an extreme haircut.


(My guess: Frost had got the tops, so the make-up & hair department prettied them up for market!)

Appearances can be deceptive, as my mother must have cautioned me.

The customary clean-up revealed their core to be firm and useable.


They served perfectly.

Always on the lookout for “one-dish wonders“,  I found this one in Rose Elliott’s classic The Bean Book.

I treasure both my Rose Elliott books–the other being Not Just a Load of Lentils.

A prolific cookbook author, she has written over sixty books!

The topping here is red lentils and onions cooked down to resemble yellow mashed potatoes:


A sprinkling of parmesan and wholewheat breadcrumbs finishes off the dish so it browns nicely.


It worked so well, I plan to try it over seafood to create the classic fish pie that I’ve been missing since I was diagnosed with Type 2.

Oh boy! This opens up a whole new horizons!

I shall go pie-mad experimenting with this!


Serves 4

  • 6 oz red lentils–washed clear and drained
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion–chopped
  • 400 ml stock–I use organic vegetable stock cubes (14 fluid ounces or  just under two cups)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1lb fennel bulbs (after removing outer leaves and coring)–chopped into large chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • a tablespoon each of wholewheat breadcrumbs and grated parmesan, mixed–more if you like.
  • juice of half a lemon

Choose a presentable oven proof dish and lightly oil or butter the base.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

In a medium saucepan, sauté the onion in the olive oil with the bay leaf until opaque–five minutes or so–stirring occasionally.

Add the drained lentils and stir in the stock.

Cook them, covered, over a gentle heat until they have softened and formed a loose mash.

Let it cool a bit then blitz with a hand-held blender to a smooth consistency like mashed potatoes.

Mix in the lemon juice.

In another saucepan cook the fennel chunks in enough lightly salted water to cover until just tender.

Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to the oven-bound serving dish.

Season well with salt and black pepper and turn them over thoroughly.

Spread the lentil mash evenly over the fennel and finish with a sprinkling of the parmesan and breadcrumb mixture.


Drizzle over some olive oil and place in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes.

It should come out with a lovely sizzling brown top.


Serve as a main dish or as an accompaniment.


It was a perfect foil for some left-over red bean chili (another simple wonder from Rose Elliott) the other night.






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Meredith doesn’t recognize “wary”, be it dog or human, when she senses need.

I published this last year and the story bears repeating.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING  à tout le monde!


Meredith and I were at the La Gare in Castres some weeks back seeing our friends Anne and Ray from Maryland onto their midday train to Toulouse.

Double seat benches faced each other in the waiting area–perfect for two couples.

Problem was that on one of the benches sat a hooded figure hunched forward, asleep perhaps–his face hidden, anyway showing no signs of being about to move.

Not a threatening presence exactly but hooded figures give you pause.

It was a chilly early autumn day. He was wearing shorts and sandals and a plastic bag rested at his side.

When the train arrived, the four of us made our way onto the platform with the other waiting passengers.

Mr Hooded Figure followed amid the general animation, fearing perhaps being moved on unless he gave the impression he was traveling too.

We said our goodbyes to Ray and Anne and headed back towards the hall.

Meredith looked for Mr HF.

He was sitting on a bench on the platform still hooded looking straight ahead; unfocused, dazed, unengaged–certainly benign but lost and hungry, Meredith thought.

She made her first move.

For this story is about the moves that Meredith makes that others (like me) might not always leap up to make.

I said I’d get the car started–wary of being too eager a samaritan.

Meredith doesn’t recognize “wary”, be it dog or human, when she senses need.

She went up to him and asked if he’d like something to eat and drink.

He said he would and they made their way to the little news stand where the refrigerated shelf held sandwiches and salads.

He said he just wanted water but Meredith persuaded him to accept a small tabbouleh salad with the bottle of water.

She was also concerned about his state of mind and asked him if he wanted to see a doctor or go to the hospital.

He eventually agreed to go to the hospital.

My face when she turned up with him was a picture, she says.

She explained the situation and the young man got into the back of the car.

I said “Bonjour Monsieur”; took a deep breath and set off.

When we arrived at the hospital Meredith accompanied him into “Urgences”, the emergency reception.

I parked the car and hung out.

It took a while.

When she came out she said she’d left him waiting to see a doctor.

To her surprise he’d produced his identity card and carte vitale (health system card) from a deep pocket in his shorts, when asked by reception.

She later went back to the hospital with a bag of clothes but found that he had been discharged–to her dismay.

The receptionist said the doctor who’d dealt with him was busy with other patients and she’d have to wait.

After 45 minutes she reluctantly gave up and drove home.

She later found him on Facebook and left a message wishing him well and hoping he was alright.

Last week she received this email from him.

Bonjour, je suis la personne que vous avez aidée à la gare de Castres.

Merci pour votre humanité et votre gentillesse.
Je vous souhaite une bonne continuation.

She found this quote from Voltaire to include in her reply:

La vie est un naufrage, mais nous ne devons pas oublier de chanter dans les canots de sauvetage

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats!”

The beat goes on…

Yesterday Meredith made another trip to Toulouse with two American friends to deliver “stuff” for needy Syrian refugees as winter sets in.


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Café Plum in Lautrec was buzzing on Thursday evening.

It is a bar with a bohemian air, set up a few years ago in the old village school house–spacious and welcoming. It doubles as a bookshop–bookshelves floor to ceiling–browsing between courses encouraged.

The arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau and the prospect of a rousing gig from favorite sons, The Narvalos–nine local musicians with a reputation for playing long and hard–a perfect match for the atmosphere of unspoken defiance and determination that life must proceed as normal.

Nothing said, but clearly–no surrender.

Autumn is in and the trees are almost bare–though not the oaks, always the last to shed.

No stopping that either–winter is coming.


Les Narvelos. Local press describes them–“Neuf instruments sur scène et une énergie toujours présente dans ce groupe où les textes défendent l’art du bien vivre ensemble.”

The Narvelos–not sure why the name–were on song Thursday from the start, playing a brilliant set of high energy French popular music, most their own–sort of chansons that rock.

There was a feeling of comradeship–long term–that spread out from the bandstand to encompass us all.

We were all Narvelos Thursday night!

We left at 11pm– but the party went on ’til 4am we heard!

The next night Café Plum were the promoters of a different sort of gig–in the village church–a imposing building with an elaborate baroque interior. The bells strike the hour twice and still summon the faithful, but the church struggles these days to fill the pews.

Friday night though there is a fair turn-out for the concert of songs from the Basque country that borders the Atlantic–four hours to the west of us.

Unaccompanied singing in close harmony–acapella or polyphonie.


Vox Bigerri*

The five men in the group–their black outfits encouraging a feeling of monkish brotherhood–start singing at the back of the church and make their way up the nave, glancing at one another, as though in conversation as they proceed–confirmation of their experience and fraternity.

Their formation–who stands next to whom–changes, the harmonies enhanced by the appropriate proximity.

For one song four of them form a close circle–arms held loosely round their waists.

The leader–Pascal Caumont–introduces each song as though he’s talking to you in your living room–then taps his small tuning fork, puts it to his ear, emitting an almost imperceptible oumm–which the others appear to pick up in their heads.


Then that quiet glance to each other again before the inward breath and the perfect synchronized start.

Their harmonies are daring and mesmerizing and like the Narvalos they communicate a sense of mutual trust for each other, earned over a long period of practice and performance; not too much to call it–love.

Before gifting us an encore they modestly promote their CDs and hint that they might wind down at Café Plum with more.

We head over there and are rewarded.

Vive la France! Vive la Musique– mais surtout, vive L’Harmonie!

*I apologize for misspelling the name of Vox Bigerri under the first photo in my original post.





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